“I want to have a direct relationship with the non-government sector…Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for non-government schooling that we don’t have for government schooling.”
-Christopher Pyne, Education and Training Minister
Recently I wrote a series of articles regarding inituial teacher education (ITE) (the first of which can be viewed here), which included an article discussing the public perception of education and teachers and the relationship that education and the teaching profession have with the current Education and Training Minister, Christopher Pyne ( which can be viewed here). This series generated some insightful discussion around ITE and the public perception of education, and I had intended for this article to be a continuation of that conversation, based on themes which emerged from responses I received.
However a newspaper article has emerged overnight which has created a storm of controversy all over social media which requires discussion. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were inundated with postings of the article and comments regarding the decision which the government is considering adoption as to Commonwealth funding for education. If you have not yet read the article, here are the key points (in my opinion) of contention that have emerged:
- The Federal Government has circulated a Green Paper to state and territory governments to consider the following four education funding reform options:
- giving the states and territories full responsibility for all schools;
- making states and territories fully responsible for funding public schools while the federal government funds non-government schools;
- reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools, but without significant structural change; or
- making the federal government the dominant funder of all schools.
- Education and Training Minister Christopher Pyne has said that the government has a responsibility to independent education that it does not have to public eductaion.
- Wealthier families will be required to pay more for their child’s education which means introducing means-testing to public education.
It must be pointed out that the government has indicated that this is only a green paper. My understanding, and I am happy to be corrected, is that a green paper is an introductory discussion paper used to test the waters on a concept. It must also be noted that it is a green paper on Federation Reform generally, not education specifically. Even with that in mind, given the four options that have emerged from this green paper in regards to education, there is certainly cause for concern. This article will make a start on unpacking the potential ramifications for each of the emergent themes.
- Give the states and territories full responsibility for all schools
This is not, necessarily, a negative outcome for education, but is dependent on the conditions attached to such a delegation of responsibility. For this option to be successful, the states and territories will require greater support, financially, from the Commonwealth. Being completely realistic, the states and territories would require the amount of funding currently utilised by the Commonwealth to fund education, which would, in fact, result in a change-by-technicality rather than a true change in funding.
If the Commonwealth opted not to provide additional funding to assist the states and territories in providing a high quality education, that is an essential and critical service for the ongoing success and growth of Australia, there would be some severe, negative repercussions. The most obvious result of this, to my eyes at least, is that there would be greater pressure on parents to pay the, currently, voluntary contributions. I would go so far as to suggest that it would result in those contributions becoming mandatory, which would place a greater burden on families who are already burdened from many different angles.
Additionally, a lack of additional funding to the states and territories in order to supplement their ability to fund education adequately would result in a quite obvious reduction in funding to schools. I highly doubt that there would be any steps taken at the top to reduce bureaucratic bloating, and that the reduced funding would be leveled on those most in need; our students, via our schools receiving less funding. Teachers would continue to be expected to achieve more with less; less resources, less time for continuing professional development, and less support for this students with additional learning needs. The end result of this is an exacerbation of a popular teaching meme
The alternative, which has just occurred to me, and leaves me feeling sick at the thought of it, is that public education will become corporatised, with the various companies purporting to offer high quality education resources competing to gain the right to supply a school with its resources from textbooks to uniforms to workbooks to technology. Some may see this as a boon, however you only need to look to the US where this is happening to a degree, to see tht it can be highly negative.
- Make states and territories fully responsible for funding public schools while the federal government funds non-government schools;
The arguments against this proposition are similar to the first suggestion. With the additional note that it will result in a complete financial apartheid in education. The scions of wealthy families will no longer be required to consort with the plebeian masses, as the families who can afford to do so, will rapidly remove their child from the crumbling public education system, where funding is drying up as the states and territories are not financially equipped to fully-fund such a large and ongoing expense, and join the wealthy and exclusive private education system.
- Reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools, but without significant structural change
We have not been given any real information at this point about what this actually means which makes it difficult to determine the impacts of this proposition on education. My personal prediction is that this option is merely a re-wording of the previous options; a divestment of responsibility for education to the state and territory governments.
- Making the federal government the dominant funder of all schools.
This may not sound particularly negative on the surface. However given that there is a reported A$30b shortfall in education for 2018 according to the budget, I cannot see this being an option that is given any serious consideration.
Ultimately, this latest political uproar raises further questions about what kind of society the Abbot-led government wants. They were thwarted in their attempt to push through a user-pays fee for our universal healthcare system last year, touted as a GP co-payment, the deregulation of tertiary education fees is ongoing, and now this. My interpretation is that Abbot and co are attempting to return us to a time of aristocracy, with more distinct upper and lower classes defined by economic standing and education. It is an erosion of the basic principles of democracy as well; I highly doubt you will find many people who believe that withdrawing Commonwealth funding for our students education is a positive decision.
This is a critical time to be involved in the education discussion. It is incumbent upon us all to be involved, and to be informed. Allowing the government to roughshod over the needs of the public in this case will have critical and dire affects on our country’s future, economically and socially.
I implore everyone to contact their Member for Parliament (if you are not sure who your member is, click here and scroll down to the search box) and question them as to how removing Commonwealth funding, which seems to be the ultimate goal, can be beneficial for the country. Let them know that you want your child to have access to the same thing that we all did – free public education. To send a message via the GetUp campaign, click here. If you want to read a different perspective, I would suggest this article by Glenn Savage or this article by Stewart Riddle (re-posted by Corinne Campbell)
Let your voice be heard.